This is a reprint of a feature story I published a few years ago.
Whether for school or travel, the right-size backpack worn properly will help protect your child’s spine. I’m encouraged that more retailers are providing a wider variety of sizes. Lands End, for example, offers four sizes from small to extra large ~ however, no youth needs an extra-large backpack for anything but a spare pillow in the car. It will be too heavy long before it’s fully loaded.
Many families’ back-to-school shopping list will include a new backpack this fall. Don’t buy the cheapest one you can find, advises Dr. Paul Venturini, a central Illinois chiropractic physician. Correct backpack design, size and usage help keep children’s backs, shoulders and necks properly aligned and pain free.
In fact, “A 2016 study on back pain published in the Journal of Spine reported that 6 out of 10 children, young adolescents and older adolescents experience back pain related to backpack use,” said Venturini, owner of Advanced Center for Pain and Rehab in Springfield.
Packs that are considerably too heavy or, the study found, slightly too heavy but worn for too long, stress the body and break down tissue – in other words, cause pain.
“It’s best not to scrimp on the quality of your child’s backpack,” said Venturini. Important features include: lightweight, durable materials; two two-inch adjustable padded straps; a padded back; ideally, a hip/waist belt; and, for children and youth who will have to carry too much weight or for too long a period, wheels.
The backpack should fit within the space from just below the child’s neck to approximately two inches above the hips. Sized appropriately, the pack will not force the child to hunch forward to support it and is less likely to be overly heavy when packed.
Keep the weight to no more than 10 to 15 percent of the child’s weight. So, if a youth weighs 100 pounds, keep the contents to 10 or 15 pounds at most.
Ensure that the straps are positioned to keep the pack from riding too low on the body; this creates a leaning, slouching posture
Teach children to lift any heavy item by bending the knees and using leg muscles rather than bending and straining the back.
Finally, try to make sure that the child uses both straps, rather than slinging the pack over one shoulder, says Dr. Chris Reid, owner of Reid Family Wellness in central Illinois.